Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How to find FREE Photos for Personal or Commercial Use

Everyone knows how easy it is to do a search for a specific photo on google and instantly use any of images that come up for whatever purpose we see fit - but how would you feel if some stranger took the photos you shared of your kids, or your kitchen, or your dog Penelope and used them to promote their business? You'd probably be pretty angry - so why would you do it to someone else? Maybe you just don't want to spend any money - and that's totally fine! There are a TON of great resources on the web for photos that are free to use without any bad karma :)) The list below are are all sites that I've used myself while working on a bare-bones or non-existent budget.

Just a heads up: The first 3 sites require you to sign up for an account to download, which is no big deal - I always just sign up with my "junk" email address. It's also important to read the terms of use on each site/image to be safe before using any image in a commercial project! While 90% of commercial use will be fine, there is always a few scenarios (like re-selling the same image as digital download) that are not permitted.

This week's Free image on iStock 
1) iStock: iStock is the industry-standard site for stock photography, and I've purchased from them extensively, but did you know they also give away a Free Photo of the Week? Just click on PHOTOS in the top menu bar, then click on the FREE PHOTO OF THE WEEK image in the right sidebar. There is also a super cheap $1 bin of photos & vector art as well, and if you sign up for a new iStock account using my referral link, you'll get 10 Free credits ($20 value, $2 = 1 credit) and I'll earn a few credits as well for referring you (win-win!).
PROS: Super easy to search through, always high quality photography, available in large sizes great for print or web, 4 different free images per month. You won't have to credit the photographer when use the photo. And you can't beat the 10 free credit deal.
CONS: Free photos of the week are usually very specific images, might not be generic enough for your needs, you'll most likely need to check the site weekly and build up image overtime

"Walking" photo from Freerange Stock
2) Freerange Stock: Free Range Stock is made up a community of photographers that make their photos available to you for free, in exchange for revenue from ads featured all over the site. There is a decent sized collection of typical stock photos with many different subject matters, worth a look!
PROS: Great search feature & lots of different photo content. You won't have to credit the photographer.
CONS: Varying levels of talent in contributing photographers, lots of ads on the site

Ornate Tiles photo from CG Textures
3) CG Textures: CG Textures was started as a free database of textures for 3d modeling artists, but there is lots of useful content for graphic designers or other professionals . While you won't find any photos of people, there are tons of excellent images of flowers, animals, landscapes, buildings paint splatters and more. CG Textures just asks that you download respectfully, on an as-needed basis (no photo hoarding!). They do limit the amount of downloads you can make in one day. However the limit is very generous and I've never exceeded it.
PROS: High quality photos, & great selection of subject matter. Especially good site for illustrators & designers who want to digitally add textures to their work. No photo credit needed.
CONS: Photos are mainly geared to be used as a addition to another design, not as a stand-alone piece.

Totally free photo from Wikimedia 
4) Wikimedia Commons: Believe it or not, there is a community of artists that want you to use their work for free without any compensation in return - and it's huge, with over 20.5 million freely usable files and growing.  You're allowed to download, use, copy or modify anything on the site, as long as you respect the terms supplied by the artist (which may mean crediting them).
PROS: HUGE and I do mean HUGE database of images, with particularly good health, & science & historical images.
CONS: So big, it can be hard to navigate. Since anyone can contribute, there are varying levels of quality in the photos. If you are looking for very commercial looking stock images, this is not the best site. You also may need to credit the photographer, which may not be ideal for all commercial use.

Photo Credit: Hussain Didi on Flickr
5) Flickr Creative Commons: Flickr is another great resource for free-use photos. Since it's a gallery site geared towards people who are interested in photography (whether they are professionals or hobbyists) the quality of images is a bit higher & more consistent than Wikimedia.  There is a section especially for sharing public photo archives like what you might find in museums (mainly photos dated from the late 1800s-1950s) called The Commons. If you ever need a 1880's era shot of a baby posing on a chair, here's your goldmine.
PROS: Great selection of historical images in The Commons, and you won't need to credit the photographer. Some really great modern & artsy stuff can be found in the Creative Commons section. Very easy to share, download, or embed images in multiple sizes.
CONS: You will need to credit the photographer for anything used from Creative Commons & the multiple copyright scenarios can be confusing. 

Official US President Photo!
6) Yes, the government! Numerous government agencies have entire databases of images for you to use, and they are nicely organized on this site. You need a state map? Got it. Photo of the President? Just check out the US Government's photostream on Flickr. Picture of someone getting infected with the flu? Tons of those! Belt out a quick Pledge of Alligence, then go crazy at the site above.  
PROS: So. much. stuff. All taken by professional photographers. And if you're a journalist or blogger, these photos are pure gold, with almost no restrictions. 
CONS: You can't use the president's image in a way that implies he personally endorses whatever you might be selling. darn.

7) Google Image Search: Yeah, I know I told you in the first paragraph NOT to use google image search, but I lied, you can. But only in a specific way- by adding a filter to your search. Search for the image subject, then click on> Search Tools, and choose> Labeled for reuse. Google will do a search of free images on wikimedia, Flickr, deviantart, clip art sites and more. Always click on the image and go to> Visit Site to get the exact copyright specs.

PROS: The world's your oyster.
CONS: You'll need to have a specific subject in mind before you search, no random browsing. Much harder to find images where no credit is required, since they get mixed together with ones with attribution (credit required) licenses.

Photo Credit: Brian Ochalla on Flickr

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find some chocolate.

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